Fears of a fourth wave are looming in Spain as the country once again entered a high-risk situation as defined by the coronavirus alert system. Under this traffic light system, an area is at high risk when the 14-day incidence rate exceeds 150, the seven-day incidence rate is more than 75, and the occupancy rate in intensive care units (ICUs) is between 15% and 20%. The system also takes into account the positivity rate, i.e. the percentage of tests that come back positive out of the total; the traceability rate – how many contacts are detected per 100 cases; and the occupancy rate of normal hospital beds.
According to the latest Health Ministry report, released on Tuesday, the first three indicators now exceed the established thresholds. The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants stands at 152, the seven-day incidence rate is at 79.8 and Covid-19 patients occupy 18.4% of all ICU beds. This places Spain on level three of the four-level alert system, in which the highest level indicates extreme risk.
We are heading towards a situation that leads us to believe that we are already entering a fourth waveVerónica Casado, regional health chief of Castilla y León
The alert system was really designed to measure the evolution of the pandemic in smaller areas, such as the regions, but when applied to all of Spain it gives an idea of the rise in cases that has been seen over the past few weeks, in what some regions are already calling the beginning of a fourth wave.
In Castilla y León, for example, regional health chief Verónica Casado said on Wednesday: “We are heading towards a situation that leads us to believe that we are already entering a fourth wave.” Casado made the statement at a press conference following a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System, which brings together health officials from the central and regional governments.
Health Minister Carolina Darias also appeared at the conference to call on the public to demonstrate “responsibility” and “exemplary behavior” in order for the Covid-19 vaccination drive to take effect. “Each week that we advance we are gaining time on the virus,” she said. “We need the vaccines to benefit from this time to prevent this spike from turning into a fourth wave.”
Although the incidence rate is rising in most Spanish territories, it is doing so from very different starting points. Seven territories have an incidence rate above the 150-threshold considered an indicator of high risk: Asturias, Catalonia, Madrid, Navarre, the Basque Country and the North African exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Four regions are very close to this limit: Andalusia, Aragón, Castilla y León and La Rioja. In another five, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants remains below 100: the Balearic Islands, Castilla-La Mancha, the Valencia region, Galicia and Murcia.
Pressure on hospitals, however, has still not increased despite the fact that cases have been on the rise for the past two weeks. In ICUs, the percentage of beds occupied by Covid-19 patients has remained around 18.4% (keeping in mind this figure measures total capacity, including surgery spaces) and in hospital wards the figure continues to be around 6.5%.
English version by Melissa Kitson.